I have bought, studied and avoided more personal growth programs than most people could even name!There are a good number of valuable and results-producing programs out there. My purpose in this article is simply to give a review of what qualities and characteristics anyone in the market for a personal growth program should be looking for – before they buy into one.The number one thing to watch for in any program? You must be not only allowed, but expected, to take personal responsibility for your own thinking, feelings and actions throughout the program – there is no attempt or expectation for you to hand this over to someone who tells you how to feel, or what to think or say or believe, or what to do.Corollary to this: there should be no push or even subtle expectation that you become a follower (adept, believer) of any single person in the organization providing the materials. The teachings or processes are the important thing to follow – not the personality of their presenter(s).However, it is always good to keep in mind the attitudes and behaviors of the people you will be listening to or studying with as you do the program. Do members of the organization and the teachers “walk their talk”, that is, are they consistently and naturally open-minded, nonjudgmental, positive in word and deed, respectful and loving of practitioners – even if the latter use more than one program to achieve their personal objectives?Corollary to this: do the people leading/presenting the program give you time and space to use the processes on your own – at your own pace, in your own time – without expectation of “deadlines for progress”? Here it is all about comfort and independence as you do the program.Do the providers of the program expect or oblige you (via an auto-ship, pre-pay or other type of program) to buy additional products to “complete” the basic package you have already purchased? Certainly you should be free do so if you get clear and valuable benefits. But if the “basic program” is presented as “complete and all you need” to achieve what the providers state is the outcome of their program – be wary of the requirement to purchase anything else to “achieve the results you came for”.The program you follow should allow you to personally experience the change(s) it promises. If nothing happens in your personal experience, you are not growing – so leave! It is never enough for a teacher to say, “Now you have changed by doing this.” The bottom line test is that you feel a difference, in your own perception, for the better.Corollary to this: does the program have even a simple “measuring tool of progress” for you to use on your own?Next, you really need to start any program in a personal comfort zone – and expect that your zone will be (gently) challenged and then expanded by the program and its processes.A comfort zone, in my view, starts with language: Does the program use, right from the start, words and language that you both understand and are meaningful to you? You should not have to learn a new language to improve your life! Does it give you clear, basic guidance and clearly answer your basic questions to your satisfaction? If you are expected to learn special terminology or ways of speaking – how practical is the process in your everyday life?Elitist? Effective? A special vocabulary may make the program you’ve chosen sound “elite”, but if you are in the market to improve your life – would you rather have “elite” or “effective”? Effective tools are tools that you will use every day – and using them every day is what is going to change your life around, right?Related to this, does the program ask that you make radical changes in any part of your daily living? Ask yourself (and answer honestly), “Will I stick with this new way of doing things?” “Will I give it all up because I am not ready or willing to make anything but gently incremental changes?”Has the organization and its teachers got a track record of success with its past and current students or practitioners? In other words, do they willingly give you testimonials (audios, videos, texts) from real people that have successfully used the program? Are the organization and its teachers people you can trust, even though the process or program they present seems to challenge you? (Remember that to grow means to be challenged!)Does the process, method or program have an inner consistency or thread running through it that speaks to you and that gives you ways to measure your own success or progress in using it?Would you be happy or reluctant to share with loved ones or even strangers what you are doing? That is, are you able to speak in ordinary language about the program? Or are you embarrassed to do so? We are probably better off choosing something that we can share with those around us (if it came to that) because – after all is said and done – you are in the program to make life improvements, right? If someone in your life notices that you have changed and asks you about it – would you rather have the willingness and the words to tell him how you did it… or be in a position to prefer denial that anything has happened?
In order to pick the best training program for you, several factors need to be considered. Is the program specific to your goals? Does it take into consideration your body’s individual differences? Warning: Don’t buy a weightlifting program until you’ve answered the following seven questions…Far too many people just randomly pick program in hopes it will work for them. Or they see a program working for a group of people and assume it will work for them too..Before you pick any bodybuilding program, all you need to do is run through this quick list of seven questions and make sure the program address each one in some capacity or at least the majority of them.Question #1: Individual DifferencesDavid Q. Thomas, Ph.D. stated, “We all will have similar responses and adaptations to the stimulus of exercise, but the ate and magnitude of these changes will be limited by our differing genetics.” Meaning if everybody performs the same exercise program, all of us will have slightly different results. Setting realistic expectations and eliminating frustration is the goal. We all ave different genetic blueprints. And while a program that recommends a certain number of set and repetitions maybe work or Joe, it might not work all that well for Betty.We all have different abilities, weaknesses and bodies and we all respond differently to any given training system. These differences should be taken into account for a given program.Does the program have you in mind?Question #2: OvercompensationNothing more than a survival code, does the program have build-in training stress? Muscle fibers grow in size and strength in response to training.To become stronger you have to overload relative to the last workout session. This means you have to work a bit harder either in intensity and/or in volume.Does the program challenge you in some way?Question #3: OverloadIn order to make progress (strength, muscle size) you need do challenge your body and do more today than yesterday. You must exercise against a resistance greater than you normally encounter. If you use the same sets, reps and weight, there will be no further improvement beyond what your body has alreadyadapted. Some people refer to this as the training plateau.You may even split your body parts up at this point because as you get more advanced, it’s nearly impossible to workout a particular body part in the time allotted and fully recover.Does the program you want incorporate overload?Question #4: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID)Your body is a highly adaptive system. If you want to train for strength, then pick a program that address limit strength. If you want to train aerobically, then choose one that is structured precisely for that.If you are limited on time, look for programs that have you in and out of the gym in under 60 minutes.Many people want to train for brute strength, muscle size and aerobic fitness. As you know by now, those three objectives are entirely different. Picking a single training objective is what you are looking for when picking a program.Don’t buy a program that involves lifting heavy weights if your goal is simply to be fit, lean and mean, no training partner or spotter and you want to be in and out in 60 minutes. You might want to look for different programs based on your specific goals.Does the program meet your needs?Question #5: Use/DisuseNothing more than “use it or lose it.” Make sure whatever training program you pick trains all the major muscle groups in a time frame that you can achieve the expected results.It’s enough to stress the muscle on a continued basis and keep it adapting and not regressing. But if a program doesn’t train a body part enough, you may not experience the change you’d like to see.Does the program train all the major body parts?Question #6: SpecificityIt’s as simple as moving from general foundational training to more specific training as your objecting approaches.For example… if you aren’t strong enough to do pull-ups, you may opt to use an assisted machine. But in order to eventually do pull ups, you’ll need to move from a general exercise to the specific which is doing pull ups.The same can be said for squats.At first you might do leg extensions and leg presses to build up general strength. At some point, if you want to get stronger in squats, it will be through doing squats and not the leg press. If you want to be better at running a marathon, you will need to run a marathon and not cycle your training.Does the program train you for your specific goal?Question #7: General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)In almost all training programs, people will experience the 3 stages of stress.1 – Alarm. Your body will detect changes and must adapt quickly to adapt to the new demands imposed. Hormones are on the rise, and the stress hormone cortisol makes its appearance.2 – Resistance. Here’s where the growth and change can occur. Your training program has increased your stress and your body’s reaction is to build up resistance. Bigger muscles, more oxygen capacity. But at some point, your reserves will run dry.3 – Exhaustion. This is where overtraining comes into play, where motivation is questioned, and all kinds of nasty derailing training problems can occur.If the program you are looking at is single sided (heavy heavy heavy) you’ll likely end up in an exhaustion phase. A good training program will go through stages of heavy resistance followed by periods of lighter resistance to aid in recovery. Some body parts will be training frequently and others not as much depending on the recovery needed.A good example of avoiding the General Adaptation Syndrome would be one that incorporates periods of heavier resistance and then lighter resistance for recovery. A lot of variety in whatever program you choose is a good thing.Does the program have built-in periodization?The important thing to learn is this: if you quickly evaluate a training program, you can decide if it’s something that might work for you. In many cases, people just pick programs randomly or through web searches. Take the time to do some preliminary evaluation and ensure the program you are choosing will meet your needs.Head to the gym today, but don’t just take any program with you. Take one that works for you. That’s your real secret weapon.